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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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The Hovey Murals

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The "Hovey murals" in Dartmouth's Thayer Dining Hall were painted between 1937 and 1939. The mural is named after Richard Hovey, Dartmouth Class of 1885, who wrote the college drinking song on which it is based. 

In the mid-1930s American illustrator Walter Beach Humphrey (Dartmouth Class of 1914) proposed painting the mural in Thayer to illustrate Hovey's drinking song. The Dartmouth-based mural cycle would stand in contrast to the recently completed mural by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco in Baker Library. At the time of its making, it was to decorate a basement-level dining room in Thayer Hall that was later known as the Hovey Grill. In the 1930s, muralism in America was at its height, and examples of this trend can be seen in post offices across the United States, as well as in eating establishments and bars (for example, Maxfield Parrish's mural in the St. Regis Hotel bar in New York). Humphrey's mural is painted in a style similar to that of other contemporaneous illustrators, such as N. C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

The mural shows Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth College, bringing “five hundred gallons” of rum into the New England woods and serving it to the Native Americans. Along with a variety of animals, including moose, bear, skunk, and fox, the mural illustrates the narrative of the song: a Native American "chief" greets Wheelock and his barrel of rum, while half-dressed women, one of them reading a book upside down, sit and stand in varying poses. Native American men are served rum by Wheelock from the Dartmouth montieth, or silver punchbowl, given to the college by John Wentworth, the last royal governor of New Hampshire. While Wheelock spills the rum, intoxicated Natives, one wearing the lone pine symbol and a Phi Beta Kappa key, drink their fill.

With the beginning of the Native American Program, Native American Studies, and co-education in the early 1970s, the mural (along with the Dartmouth Indian mascot) came under scrutiny and caused debate on campus. The drinking song itself implied that the Native Americans traded their land to Wheelock for alcohol. The mythologizing and celebration of a faux past belied the tragic history of conquest and domination of Native Americans in New England. This fact, and the pin-up quality of the depiction of the women, gave offense and caused the administration to limit access to the mural in the late 1970s, finally covering it up in 1983. The room in which it is housed has had varied uses since that time, including as a dance club and a storage space for Dartmouth Dining Services. Currently, it is a game room. In 1993 the Native American Council, asked to reconsider the mural and its status, recommended uncovering it for educational purposes. At the time, Colleen Larimore, Dartmouth Class of 1985 and former director of the Native American Program, stated, "I think this is a turning point for Native Americans at Dartmouth. While we still consider the murals to be degrading and offensive, we cannot deny how Native Americans were viewed in the past at Dartmouth and in this country. Rather than fleeing from this past, we must face it and learn from it." However, this initiative to uncover the mural faded away. It is still on occasion unveiled for educational purposes.

Last Updated: 9/16/10